Dispatches from the d.School #1

The journey here …

Community organizers teach empathy as an aspirational value. Empathy is a value to live by and and a value to promote for a better and more just world. By contrast, Stanford’s d.school, I’ve explained to my organizing friends, teaches empathy as a mindset and skill set with which to develop better products for people.

This description is bit of an oversimplification. There is no judgement in it, though. Instead, it answers this blog post’s prompt of why I’m here as a 2016 Project Fellow.

Starting a bit further back:

A social justice career path — taking on a series of professional roles that attempt to intervene in how people relate to themselves, their communities and their world, while addressing problems at their root cause through building power — can be deeply personal, often shaped by our earliest of experiences and traumas. This has been true for my own life.

I grew up in a house where depression appeared and made clear the limits and injuries caused by societal norms, as well as made clear the truth that happiness isn’t always easily accessible, come upon, or instigated, either by an individual or for an individual by those who surround and love them. Accessing happiness, or perhaps, instead, just not deep sadness, in the face of depression can be a remarkable privilege.

My path, first as an organizer, then in philanthropy, now in tech, is the result of these early experiences. It is the result of this moreso than simpler, affirming explanations that figure me, like many in the nonprofit sector, as having a big heart, as caring more, as being more concerned, or being more just. Social justice was and is for me, instead, very much a personal need, an invitation and a regaining of control to positively affect and transform individual lives in ways that I longed for, but didn’t realize, growing up.

I share this because this is what I come to the d.school with — a desire to allow and invite others, as I was, to find solace and strength in being more generous, more impactful, in creating and nurturing that best part of ourselves — our Giving Side.

My time at the d.school is my chance to move from an approach to empathy as an aspiration and value, to empathy as something much more tangible, something in my control, that I have agency over, to fine-tune, to harness and put to use. I’m here because I’m impatiently working to affect change at scale, and believe in the democratizing promise and possibility to do that through the art and science of human-centered design.

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